'˜The moment I cheated death': Man trapped in Blackpool gas explosion tells of escape

A man trapped under the rubble of an obliterated house has spoken of the moment he cheated death.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 26th September 2017, 8:23 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th September 2017, 8:32 am
Aerial view of the house that was badly damaged in a gas explosion on Charles Street, Blackpool. Credit: Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service
Aerial view of the house that was badly damaged in a gas explosion on Charles Street, Blackpool. Credit: Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service

Tony Wheeler, 28, was hit by falling masonry and timber following a suspected gas blast at the house next door to his flat in Charles Street, central Blackpool, on Saturday evening.

He spent an hour pinned to the floor by a joist before firefighters were able to rescue him.

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After being treated for leg and head injuries and released from Royal Preston Hospital, he said: “I just saw a blue flash and was supposedly knocked out.

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“I woke up to hear everyone screaming.”

Tony said he almost lost his leg after the debris fell on top of him, and said he could have easily been killed by the falling roof.

Firefighters rescued Tony Wheeler, 28, after he was trapped following a gas explosion on Charles Street.

He added: “Luckily for me it hit me on the head flat. If it had hit me on a slant I would have been killed.”

Pauline Citterio, 72, who was in the kitchen of her three-storey home when a fireball tore through it at around 5.55pm, remains in the critical care unit at Preston, her lodger Nigel Thomas said.

Her condition has improved though remains serious, the 64-year-old said, and she needs surgery to fix a number of broken bones.

Firefighters rescued Tony Wheeler, 28, after he was trapped following a gas explosion on Charles Street.

“We had gone shopping and came home,” Nigel said yesterday. “We unpacked it, and had a shower, and I had gone to my local, Kaos [in Queen Street].

“A friend of mine came round. They said, ‘You have to come home, your house has blown up.’

“I said, ‘Yeah, what’s the punchline.”

He said he arrived home to find Pauline’s partner who was also caught up in the blast, Martin Viney, being helped down the road.

He said: “He was saying, ‘Where’s my missus? Where’s my missus?’

“I feel so guilty I was not there.”

Ryan Sharpe, 25, (pictured right) who has been sleeping on a friend’s couch since Saturday evening, said: “I feel lost. I have been walking round for the past two days feeling like crying, but what help would that do?”

Ryan said he spoke to a fire official visiting the scene yesterday morning, and was told the block of flats was ‘too unsafe’ and had to be ‘brought down’.

Neighbour Billy Burrows, 60, praised the community for rallying around those affected, including staff at the Salvation Army in Raikes Parade, who offered a helping hand to around 80 residents evacuated from their homes in Charles Street and Milbourne Street in the explosion’s aftermath.

Cookson Street and Grosvenor Street were also shut while the scene was made safe by emergency services.

Billy said: “They were brilliant. Everybody has been fantastic. There was tea, coffee, food, and everything you could imagine, including clothes.”

And Nigel said he has been inundated with offers of a place to stay, including from the Trades Hotel in Lord Street and several pals.

He added: “I have a front door key but no front door.”

Engineers from gas company Cadent were working in the road yesterday, while fencing was put up around the blast house – The Castleford – and the two buildings on either side.

Charles Street also remained closed to traffic, while a marked police car was parked on the street.

Neighbours stood talking about the weekend’s events, while a structural engineer carried out a survey of the extensive damage.

Pauline’s daughter visited the scene, but did not comment.

And one neighbour, who did not give her name, said her elderly disabled husband was also taken to hospital on Saturday night, and would now need a stay in a care home.

As reported in yesterday’s Gazette, tattoo artist Jason Slater was hailed as a hero after risking his life to go side the house after hearing Mr Viney calling for help.

The 42-year-old said: “The house was just obliterated downstairs. The ceilings were hanging in.

“He was the other side of a massive pile of bricks. We had to climb across to get to him. He said his wife was still in the kitchen.

“The other guy went into the kitchen to look for her but couldn’t see anybody – half the kitchen was gone.

“I could hear the building falling down around us. I just said, ‘We’ve got to get this guy out of the house.’

“He was just so concerned for his wife. I hope she’s all right.”

Tony, who emerged from his ordeal relatively unscathed, said he had to wait for firefighters to free Pauline, whose condition was described by police as ‘serious’, before they could get to him.

“We knew there were two people inside,” a fire service spokesman said. “One of them was on the phone to our control room saying they were inside, and we could see another casualty.

“Firefighters had to sift through the debris, obviously being careful. There was still most likely a gas leak and the property was insecure.

“They were physically trapped.

“One had to be lifted down from the first floor on the ladder on a long board.”